Monday 7 October 2013

2013 Riverport Duathlon Race Review

It's now 20 hours since the 2013 edition of the Riverport Duathlon concluded. I'm a bit sore. My knees ache because, well, that's what they do. And my cheeks ache because I still can't get this silly grin off my face. Great day and great race.

For the Classic race, which consisted of a 4km run followed by a 28km bike then another 4km run, there were 74 individual racers plus another 6 teams. The Do a Du race was 1km run, 14km bike and another 1km run had 16 participants. The Classic race also served as the Triathlon Nova Scotia 2013 Duathlon Championship.

What a day! Transition opened at a little before 8:30am with a multitude of volunteers busily directing traffic, setting up cones and plugging in a kitchen full of slow cookers full of chili, under a crisp but cloudless sky. There was a light northeasterly breeze keeping everyone moving briskly setting up. Clusters of athletes had already begun congregating in the most inconvenient places, like they always do, spinning tall tales about their lack of training and persistent injuries. Setting up their excuses for slow performances that never seem to materialize.

Inexorably, the parking lot behind the Riverport Community Center filled up with sleepy-eyed racers and family, until newly arriving cars had to be directed to spots further down the road in the Post Office parking lot or along the wide shoulder. Bikes got racked, race kits were picked up, the Atlantic Chip timing mats were carefully placed and racers began the warm-up process. At 9:40 the pre-race meeting was held, with all the usual admonitions about road hazards and rules infractions. Then back out to watch the purposeful, and sometimes bizarre, last-minute warmup and pre-race rituals. Interestingly the mood, just before the starting horn, always quiets down as experienced racers retreat into their heads, and newbies run out of nervous chatter.

The horn sounded at 10:00 am sharp. Immediately the field starts sorted itself into three components. Fastest athletes stretched out into a short line of approximately a dozen gazelles. Next came the largest cluster of racers which churned and roiled as self-seeded runners found and corrected their positions. Finally, the slower runners stretched out toward the back. All too quickly for us middle of the packers, local racer and former pro triathlete, Colin Edwards, came into view, well ahead of a furiously-pursuing pack, a position he will not relinquish. Colin finishes in 1:10:12, six minutes ahead of the next racer. but we'll get to the finish later. There's still the rest of the race to report.

As we make the turnaround cone at km2, all mention of the cool weather evaporated. It may still have been only 12 degrees C. but gloves and toques were coming off and half the racers accepted the offered water. Arriving back at transition, the reassuring beep of the electronic timers reminded us that this leg was now over. In my lactate-addled brain, the transition entry chute seemed unnecessarily convoluted, which I discovered after the race, it is not. Previously, I had carefully pre-plotted the course back to my bike so I quickly found it. Running shoes off, knee brace off, bike shoes on, helmet on, unrack the bike and head for the mount line.

The first 200m of the bike route was cool again as we were heading into the breeze, but once over the causeway and bridge, dodging potholes, we were in the lee of a hill and could get down to the business of charging up one of the most beautiful pieces of rural road in Canada. The LaHave River, at this point is wide, and across on the west side, one can see the touristy village of LaHave with it's renouned LaHave Bakery and a cluster of antique, art and other shops which have sprung up to service the many local and out-of-town visitors. After five minutes we passed the cable ferry which runs to the other side of the river. Five minutes later, we pass St. Mark's Place a deconsecrated church, and then a short while further we reached the dreaded Grimm Road. Turning right we were immediately faced with a 500m climb. This then leveled out, much to our short-lived relief, and then recommenced climbing. I had done this route several times in the last few weeks, and knew that, in training I could grind up the entire route in my big ring at low cadence, but this was a race, so I dropped down into my small ring, spun at 90 rpm and committed to a lactate threshold pace to ensure that I had something left for the remaining 10km once I was free of the Grimm Road.

Once back on the return route to Riverport I settled into a comfortable pace, surging to pass a few riders, drifing back out of the draft zone when passed and basically went into cruise control. Bad idea. Just 50 metres after passing one cyclist, lost in the shadows cast by roadside alders and wild roses, lay in wait a tiny, square, 5cm deep pothole with sharp edges and bad breath. Having flatted only a few weeks earlier after hitting a similar pothole on my training clinchers, I knew that it was only a matter of time before my race would be truncated by the loss of tire pressure. However, I race with tubular tires, and despite hitting the pothole hard enough to make me nearly lose control of the bike, dent my disc wheel rim, and to badly jar my teeth and shoulders, the tires held.

 Twenty minutes later I was back in transition. Now, about transition. This year the Riverport Community Center paved their front parking lot, affording us one of the nicest transitions areas I've ever seen. It's compact, clean, well laid out, with lots of well-spaced racks and well-marked entrance and exit chutes. However, when I arrived back at my spot, despite having twice the layout area that we had enjoyed in Guysborough, my rack mate had been inconsiderate enough to park his rear wheel right on top of my shoes, hat and knee brace. No, it didn't delay me more than a second or two, and no, it didn't change the outcome of the race for me, but was that really necessary? I just hope that in the heat of the moment, I've never done the same to someone else.

After a moment wasted fumbling with the straps on my brace, I hit the exit chute and started the second of the two 4km runs. Again, perfectly flat, beautiful run through the village of Riverport, passed a few runners, got passed by a few more (I hate it when that happens so late in a race) and cruised home to the roaring thunder of the beep from the timing mat and Mark Campbell shouting "See, I told you you'd survive." Thanks Mark. No, really. Finish chute handlers managed to relieve me of my timing ankle strap, plopped a very much appreciated water bottle into my hand, and aimed me toward the fruit and refreshments.

Although I had pushed as hard as I could for the last run, and finished feeling satisfied that I had done my best, five minutes after the finish I was refreshed and looking forward to the post-race meal. This meal is legendary among multisport athletes. Members and friends of the Bridgewater Triathlon Club, the organizers of this race, assemble a collection of the finest chili, veggie and con carne, and home-made apple crisp on the face of the earth. Once the last racer finishes, all the near-comatose racers suddenly rise up like a neon-cloaked zombie apocalypse and rush the kitchen. Many went back for seconds of both courses and there was still some of both left, although barely more than a stain.

There were dozens of draw prizes, and medals for first-place finishers in each age group. As previously mentioned, Colin Edwards was top male. The top female was Micheline McWhirter of Halifax in 1:25:53. I, as usual, finished mid pack, but PB'd by 0:6:36 over my time at the same race in 2010. I'll take that. This is a race that I would strongly recommend. It has a strong entry field for the serious racer, and a small town, homey feel for the newbie, or anyone else for that matter. It also didn't hurt that his year the race coincided with the very popular Scarecrow Festival and Antique Fair in nearby Mahone Bay, a great way to repay the spouse and kids for having to sit and watch you for a couple of hours in the cool fall air. It's the least you can do.

By the way, this year the Classic Race sold out in 8 hours. There's already talk of finding ways to increase the maximum registration so that more people can enjoy this venue. However, I am assured that no matter what changes are being considered, the Bridgewater Triathlon Club (BTC) intends to ensure that the basic feel of the race remains. For many years, BTC stalwart, Tom Rogers, was the Race Director for the Riverport Duathlon, and before that, was the originator and original Race Director, Steve Saunders. Tom stepped aside this year and Ken Snook accepted the challenge of trying to fill Tom and Steve's shoes. Tom was out of town for this year's race, but I am certain he would be very proud of the way Ken conducted the race. Their legacy continues.

Many thanks to Ken, his army of volunteers, Triathlon Nova Scotia, and to Technical Delegate Greg Kerr. See you there in 2014!

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